The Chama River begins its journey in Colorado. It’s a tributary of the Rio Grande.
Driving back from Abiquiu after a long, early morning of hunting for eagles to photograph, we stopped for breakfast before heading back to Albuquerque. Though we were empty-handed photographically, we had an amazing breakfast in the warm and cozy Café Abiquiu. The food was good, and the conversation even better. This area’s beauty alongside Highway 84 has and continues to inspire many artists, including photographers.
As we were seated and settled in, we were astonished at the amount and beauty of the art that surrounded us in this humble little café. We marveled at the fact that Abiquiu, long associated with Georgia O’Keeffe and her art, is still a haven for artists long after she has left the building. It is a standing tribute to the sustained allure of this region and what it has to offer.
We got back on the road with happy, full bellies. As we drove along, warmth and silence enveloped the car’s interior. At the same time, we all enjoyed the stunning scenery of northern New Mexico. Well, two of us anyway. The driver was exempt because she had to focus on the road.
The Chama River winds along next to the highway, and we all kind of ooo’d and ahhh’d our way along the road. Eventually, we couldn’t stand it anymore and pulled over for some of that photography we’d missed earlier. Boy, it was worth it. But first, a little more information.
The river begins its journey in Colorado and is a tributary of the Rio Grande. It meanders its way along for about 130 miles.
In the summer months, there’s boating, camping, hiking, and fishing. Real adventure seekers engage in river rafting, and there are two- and three-day trips down the river, but permits are required on the Class IV rapids. Others, however, are calmer where you can just relax and enjoy your time floating in Nature. Water releases from the El Vado Dam are timed to allow weekend visitors to enjoy their rafting experience.
Fishing is also abundant in the Chama. Trout thrive here. The river areas are rich in mule deer, black bears, elk, coyotes, and the endangered mountain lion. Several species of birds, mostly raptors, also inhabit the area. It’s a rich environment for photographers.
Chama River History
This northern New Mexico area is an archaeologist’s dream. It has some of the richest archeological regions in the United States. When you stop to look at the cliffs surrounding the river, you’ll see multiple-colored layers of sandstone, siltstone, and gypsum. They date back millions of years with glyphs carved into the walls that tell a story of the people who once lived here. Ancestry can be traced to the former inhabitants of Mesa Verde Colorado, Chaco Canyon, the Puye Cliffs, and the Poshuouinge Ruins New Mexico. Some of the rocks can be traced back almost two million years. If you’re lucky, and you pay close attention, you’ll be able to see dinosaur tracks preserved in the canyon walls.
Dinosaurs roamed the area just east of Abiquiu at Ghost Ranch some 200-230 million years ago. It is considered one of the best archeological digs in the northern hemisphere. The Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology at Ghost Ranch houses numerous exhibits and information about current excavations.
Photographically speaking, this area of New Mexico is a photographer’s dream as well. The colors, in all seasons, are breathtaking. The river is a beautiful blue or green shade that can’t be seen anywhere else in the winter. The snow on the cliffs and surrounding area is like something out of a Currier and Ives postcard. In the spring, budding trees abound with blossoms of pink, white, and purple. Summer brings full green trees and sunflowers, and the fall, naturally, brings Aspens that glow golden in the sun.
When all is said and done, and your wandering ends, the Chama River leaves an indelible impression utilizing desert treasures unlike anywhere else. It is as rich in culture and history as it is in natural resources. This distinctive landscape, which is for the most part untouched, will leave you breathless and wanting more. Go. Visit. You’ll be very glad you did.
About Kathleen Messmer—Kathleen is a photographer, filmmaker, and writer, not necessarily in that order. She presents the world as an amazing place with humor and an appreciation for other world cultures, history, and natural resources while maintaining a small footprint. Her adventures are presented in several publications, including her travel journal, Indie Spirit. She is a wildlife advocate and works tirelessly to change the many endangered species’ destiny with whom we share our planet.